Archive for May 2010

North Carolina Public Schools Disrespect Memorial Day Holiday

I was surprised to find today that my son had school. I sent a note to his principal who responded that the school would observe a moment of silence. Ours wasn’t the only school district. Many districts in north central and western North Carolina are open today.

The past winter was bad, but seeing Memorial Day sacrificed so casually is offensive. Our school district finishes on June 10th – a Thursday. Would Civilization have collapsed if the last day had been moved to Friday the 11th?

Holidays by definition are special. By treating Memorial Day as just another of the 180 school days, the North Carolina public school boards disrespect the memories of those who fought and died for our freedom on this day. Memorial Day isn’t a day to wallow in grief – it is a celebration of life. The traditions of family, fun and the unofficial beginning of summer are what our dead fought for. It is a happy day, not a somber one.

If Memorial Day was swapped with Martin Luther King jr Day, I wonder if the school districts would be so quick to substitute a moment of silence for a day off.

If You Want to a Degree in Religious and Women’s Studies…

Don’t borrow $100,000 to attend NYU.

That’s the bottom line of this New York Times article about the overwhelming debt one graduate took on to go there.

This is exactly the kind of thing that happens when kids are told they are special and should study whatever their hearts desire – the money will come later. That’s fine: as long as you don’t have to pay off student loans.

Is the school at fault for allowing the student to amass such a huge debt with such a degree? In this case since the school knew the total of her debt and counseled her to go deeper into it to finish her degree, absolutely. But the truth is that had the student graduated with a degree in one of the hard sciences, math, compsci or even pre-law she would be able to justify the debt.

Her problem, abetted by the idiots at the NYU financial aid department, was that she didn’t think long term and ask herself: Why am I going to school for four years and accumulating this debt? What makes this education worth the effort and expense?

I am no expert in education, but two decades in the private sector makes me suspect that an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies isn’t worth four years anywhere let alone at NYU. For the wealthy, perhaps. Or if the student wanted to go to graduate school and end up teaching the subject in academia sometime. At the very least had she studied at a state school she would not have accumulated a debt that cost $10k/year to service.

But the bigger problem that her situation highlights is that most degrees offered by colleges are a waste of money. A liberal arts degree is interesting and challenging. Getting one or two of them is great – if they are free or you have cash to burn. Just don’t expect an employer to offer you a job that pays much above minimum wage.

You don’t need a college class to learn about anything. There is no reason that the NYU grad couldn’t have studied women on her own. Since graduating I’ve taught myself several subjects the old fashioned way: by reading books. Some of these books were even used in college courses, but I didn’t need to pay tuition to learn what was in them.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are important reasons to go to college. Colleges have access to laboratory facilities that the layman doesn’t. It’s nearly impossible outside of a college or university to achieve the required level of learning in fields like law and medicine. But then again, that’s why we have law and medical schools. Colleges are just weeders for pre-law and pre-med who can’t hack it and study something else, like women.

Colleges have become baby sitters for kids who don’t want to grow up. That’s fine if they are willing and able to pay for it, but if neither is possible, then it’s time to get a job that pays the bills and grab a book that expands the mind for a much lower price.

Glenn Reynolds weighs in.

8 Reasons College Tuition is the Next Bubble. What’s interesting is what is going to happen when there are more students like the NYU student in the original article posted above. Having been in debt most of my life what I’ve learned that they don’t teach you in Economics 101 is that debt limits your choices. It chains you to a job that you don’t like, or a house that you can’t afford to leave, and prevents you from doing new things: switching careers, say, or leaving town and moving across the country to start fresh. You can’t do those things when you have to cut a check on the first or fifteenth of every month. Of course with college you can always get your loans suspended if you go back – which means going deeper into debt. To quote Admiral Akbar, “It’s a trap!” and a particularly insidious one at that.

Update 3:
The LA Times notes that 7 of the 10 fastest growing employment sectors do not require college degrees.

“People with bachelor’s degrees will increasingly get not very highly satisfactory jobs,” said W. Norton Grubb, a professor at UC Berkeley’s School of Education. “In that sense, people are getting more schooling than jobs are available.”

He noted that in 1970, 77% of workers with a bachelor’s degree were employed in professional and managerial occupations. By 2000, that had fallen to 60%.

It also mentions that well-paying white collar jobs requiring degrees – like computer programming – are vulnerable to offshoring. Heh. Yep.

The Council has Spoken: May 28, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room - Everybody draw Mohamed Day — or, you’re not the boss of me

Noncouncil: AlthouseIf you’re going to criticize the new social studies curriculum adopted by the Texas Board of Education, you’d better quote it. Submitted by Rhymes with Right and the Glittering Eye

Full voting here.

The Council has Spoken: May 21, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: JoshuapunditUpdate On UCSD MSA Member Who Admitted She Wants A Second Holocaust

Noncouncil: Iowahawk - Invisible Assholes Submitted by Bookworm Room

Full voting here.

The Council has Spoken: May 14, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Rhymes With RightDidn’t These Administrators Read Tinker v. Des Moines?

Noncouncil: Daled AmosThe Palestinian Leader (Who Actually Isn’t) Got Approval (Not Really) For Peace Talks Submitted by The Watcher

Full voting here.

Have You Mugged Your Kid Today?

Siddhārtha Gautama was born into wealth and privilege who was raised in a gilded cage created by his father. He provided his son with all the material things he needed and even went so far as to have his retainers hide the sick, elderly and dying when Siddhārtha traveled through towns in order to prevent his son from seeing the suffering in the world. Siddhārtha’s father did a pretty good job of it; it wasn’t until the age of 29 when Siddhārtha saw an old man. Shocked by this he soon found a sick person, a corpse and an ascetic. It changed his life, and Siddhārtha took the first steps on the path that would lead him to Enlightenment and eventual Buddhahood.

Like Buddha’s father, American parents go to extreme efforts to protect their children from anything that might make them feel uncomfortable or frighten them. Unfortunately they aren’t raising little Buddha’s – but what the Chinese call “Little Emperors” – children who view the world through a prism of selfishness created by their parents and supported by the institutions that have developed over time to care for them. Unless they experience a brief moment of enlightenment – called satori in Buddhism as when Siddhārtha’s charioteer explained aging to him on his trip as a 29 year old – there is nothing that will boot them out of the bubble so carefully crafted by their parents and maintained by our government and school systems.

There’s a cliche that a conservative is just a liberal mugged by reality. In a sense Siddhārtha was a liberal who thought he knew everything there was to know for nearly 3 decades, only to be “mugged” by the reality that suffering – aging, dying and disease – exists in the world. I am in no way implying that Buddha was a conservative, or that conservatives have achieved Enlightenment. Buddha’s glimpse at reality was only the beginning of a long and torturous journey that ended with his enlightenment. Instead I believe that it is important for young adults to experience the world without the support of their parents, and for parents to step back and allow their children to engage with the world without protecting them with a bubble of affluence.

I got to thinking about this after reading this story about David Horowitz’s appearance at my alma mater, the University of California at San Diego. David Horowitz is one of the finer conservative minds around, and like journalist John Stossel, humorist PJ O’Rourke and columnist Charles Krauthammer a liberal mugged by reality. Horowitz makes his living by traveling around college campuses trying to push kids out of the intellectual bubbles created by years of indoctrination by liberal academics. While Horowitz might disagree with me, I think that his efforts are futile.

Instead I would like to take every college kid with a poster of Mao in her dorm room and drop her in China. Better yet how about sending every dude wearing a Che shirt to Venezuela or Bolivia. Not for just a week or two but send them there for at least a year or two. Let them see first hand what modern socialism is like. As for the kids who think Chomsky or Ward Churchill is right, send them for a year or two to a sand pit like Saudi Arabia. Have them see how much fun wearing a black burqa is like in the 115 degree heat. Even a stint in an anti-American haven like New Zealand would be worthwhile. There’s nothing like constantly having to explain every nuance of American foreign and domestic policy over the past 234 years to a nation with less world “brand awareness” than Burkina Faso.

Being an American abroad is the fastest way to finding that moment of satori that can lead one to discover reality. There’s nothing like being lectured to about American Imperialism by a citizen of the nation that subjugated half of Asia under the moniker of Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Or being told how racist America is by someone who believes ethnic Koreans are filth and too stupid for anything but the most menial and dirty jobs. Or having to report to the local police station every time you change address just because you are a foreigner.

For me these experiences opened me up to the reality which came a few years later in the form of collapsed skyscrapers in New York, a hole in the middle of a cornfield in Pennsylvania, and a twisted and fractured facade in DC. On September 11, 2001 I was mugged by reality and from that day forward left behind the liberal bubble I had been raised in. But 9-11 wouldn’t have had that impact if I hadn’t been prepared by 5 years of living abroad.

Maybe that’s why David Horowitz, Ann Coulter and others visit college campuses. They aren’t trying to pop the bubbles of their audience, just make them a little thinner, a bit more transparent – providing moments of satori for a mind here or there that will then eventually blossom into full-blown awareness of reality later. Perhaps they understand that they can’t force full-blown enlightenment on their listeners, but they can smack the bubbles of their listeners to make them realize that they are there. Reality will then later finish the job as it has for so many of us on the Right.

As a parent myself I often wonder what Siddhārtha’s father thought of his son’s journey. He had the best of intentions for putting his son in a cage. He wanted him to have the best life – a life free of disappointment and sadness. Isn’t that what all parents want?

But as the Buddha teaches, reality is suffering. We cannot deny or ignore it just because the truth hurts. Had Buddha’s father succeeded, Siddhārtha would have lived a pleasant life, but an empty one and one that would have kept him from reaching his potential. Instead by failing as a parent, Siddhārtha’s father allowed him to attain Enlightenment what Buddhists believe is the greatest achievement any sentient being can realize – an achievement so rare that Buddha himself is the only man to have ever attained it.

Kids today need more muggings, more bubbles being popped, less intellectual protection and more challenges. Some will experience this regardless. Others will not, safe in the bosom of their parents and their educators. These “Little Emperors” are no different than Siddhārtha, only their parents and educators have been more successful at keeping them safe from any glimpse of reality or possibility of Enlightenment.

But how can these children be offered the opportunity for spiritual growth when their parents themselves have never been offered the same opportunities? These parents were themselves protected from the realities of the world. Brought up in relative prosperity they never experienced the hardship of the Depression. Born after World War 2, they had never fought for their lives or freedom against powerful and evil regimes.

We shouldn’t be surprised that these parents have themselves, infantilized by their own parents who like Buddha’s father only wanted to protect their children, want to wrap society in a cocoon of socialism and post-modern liberalism. In place of their own parents they substitute the government. They trade their freedom to succeed for the security offered by the State. Thanks to government protections failure is no longer an option for them – but conversely neither is success. Like Buddha in his early life they are incapable of achieving greatness, but unlike him they chose this bargain.

Post-modern liberalism and the socialism that exists at its core offers laudable goals. Safety. Security. Protection. But by offering these things they smother the force within each of us to achieve our own enlightenment. Ayn Rand viewed this self-actualizing force in primarily economic terms, but there are clearly spiritual aspects to it as well. Socialism deadens the spirit – as anyone who lived in the Warsaw Pact countries can attest – and that in the end is a greater threat than higher taxes and an ever-expanding government.

Act Like a Dhimmi, Be Treated Like A Dhimmi

Act like a freeman, and you will be perceived as a freeman.

So says Raymond Ibrahim in this piece that points out the moral bankruptcy of the attempts to appease Muslims.

Now, back to our original observation: how can Life TV get away with outlandish weekly disparagements concerning Muhammad, whereas Western cartoons spark widespread outrage? Considering that millions of more Muslims watch Life TV than have ever heard of South Park makes the question doubly puzzling.

The answer is simple: the South Park incident is less a reflection of Muslim anger and more of Western appeasement. By constantly buckling in to the slightest Muslim displeasure — whether by altering films, removing museum art, or canceling book launches — the West has perpetuated a vicious cycle wherein Muslim sensitivities are ever heightened and outraged at the slightest slight, and Western freedoms of expression are correspondingly diminished and trampled upon. What’s worse, such self-imposed censorship falls right into the hands of homegrown Islamists actively working to subvert Western civilization from within.

Conversely, by holding fast to onetime Western principles of free speech and open dialogue, Life TV has conditioned its Muslim viewers to accept that exposure and criticism of their prophet is here to stay. As Fr. Zakaria often points out, every religious figure is open to criticism: so why should Muhammad be sacrosanct? (Indeed, Comedy Central, which was quick to acquiesce to Muslim demands to censor South Park, is “brave” enough to run an entire cartoon series mocking Jesus.)

Except for the occasional episode of South Park, I gave up watching Comedy Central because of the PC tone that lays underneath all of its programming. George Lopez can offend whites, as can Dave Chappell. But making fun of minorities – Hispanics, gays, Blacks – is banned.

The bottom line is that its shows – South Park excepted – are simply not funny.

The Council has Spoken: May 7, 2010

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Razor -Dumb Luck Highlights Failure of the Obama Administration

Noncouncil: Autographed Letter Signed - The Nanny State Diaries Submitted by Wolf Howling

Full voting here.

Dumb Luck Highlights Failure of the Obama Administration

Thank you to this week’s Watchers Council for voting this essay the best for the week of May 7, 2010. I am honored.

So it turns out the Times Square bomber used M-88 firecrackers as a detonator in his car bomb. The firecrackers were meant to ignite the gasoline containers which would then ignite the propane tanks, turning the Nissan Pathfinder into a giant hand grenade. M-88 firecrackers are consumer class 1.4G (formerly known as Class-C) fireworks that look like the M-80 firecrackers of yesteryear: small red cardboard tubes filled with black powder and sealed with wax. But they have little powder and no where near the explosive power of the mythical M-80. They look much more powerful than they are, which probably tricked the jihadi into using them and saving scores of New Yorkers and tourists.*

The Underwear Bomber of Christmas Day 2009 used a plastic syringe as a detonator. It turns out that the detonator chemical melts plastic, turning it into a flaming gooey mess but failing to set off the explosives. Had a metal or glass syringe been used, it’s doubtful that we would have known that jihadis prefer briefs over boxers, and would still be mourning the deaths of hundreds in the sky above Detroit.

Both these incidents show the role dumb luck plays in carrying off any terrorist operation. They do not show the effectiveness of our government in protecting us. This hasn’t stopped Attorney General Eric Holder from claiming that it was an alert citizen that prevented the attack in a news conference today, as Shepherd Smith on Fox News has repeated over and over. Only luck prevented the car bomb from going off, luck that the jihadi wasn’t as familiar with American consumer fireworks as your average pyrotechnic aficionado. Holder seems to be repeating Janet Napolitano’s claim immediately after the Christmas Day bombing attempt that “the system worked.” Even administration mouthpiece Robert Gibbs claimed the fallback procedures in place worked. Napolitano herself couldn’t explain how Shahzad was able to board the plane even after being placed on a No Fly List hours before.

No. In both cases the system failed. Only dumb luck prevented the terrorist attacks from being successful.

What also concerns me is the nature of the bomb and the government’s reaction to it. Its crudeness led many to suspect that it was crafted by a homegrown terrorist – as Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday. Over the weekend the administration emphasized the crudeness of the device, as if it were put together by a crazed right winger. Yet the men behind the 2007 Glasgow International Airport terrorist attack used propane tanks.

al Qaeda pioneered the high-concept, low-tech approach to terrorism. They use whatever is at their disposal. It’s hard to smuggle propane tanks into aircraft, so they use homemade plastic explosives. In Iraq and Afghanistan they use easily obtained artillery shells leftover from previous wars to fashion IEDs and suicide bomber jackets. In New York City propane tanks, cars and gasoline are easy to buy so they used those.

Had the bomb been successful, Faisal Shahzad would be smoking cigarettes in the Emirates lounge in Dubai waiting for his connecting flight to Karachi. He would no doubt have gotten a good laugh with his co-conspirators as the American mainstream news media and the Obama administration searched for a right wing extremist responsible for the bombing in Times Square. Yesterday before Shahzad was caught NPR emphasized that the suspect was a “white male 35-45 years of age”; Shahzad is in his twenties and of Pakistani origin. Even this morning NPR referred to Shahzad as “American,” and did not refer to his ethnicity or the fact that he became a naturalized citizen in 2009.

Had the bomb gone off, what is the likelihood that Shahzad would have escaped? Given the conclusions being drawn over the weekend by Mayor Bloomberg, the Obama administration, and the media’s hyperventilation over the possibility that a Tea Party extremist was behind the attack, is it going too far to believe that had the bomb gone off there would have been a witch hunt against the Tea Party movement?

But dumb luck saved the day. No New Yorkers died on Saturday, and the only thing lost is face by the administration. But dumb luck doesn’t last forever. The administration needs to wake up and get serious to the threat posed by jihadis. As Roger Simon asks, “How can we begin to defeat this enemy if we are not even willing to name it?” The administration got lucky in Times Square on Saturday. Hopefully America’s luck will hold until Obama gets serious about the threat posed by the jihadis, or his administration is replaced by one that is.

As MSM outlets like AP and ABC News pursue the story that made Shepherd Smith so apoplectic this afternoon, the administration is doing what it does best: blaming someone else. In this case it is surprisingly not George W. Bush, but the Emirates airline. The administration claims evidently the airline doesn’t refresh its No-Fly database frequently enough.

Having done my fair-share of database design and system requirements, I would bet that the database used by Emirates Airlines was built according to US government specifications. Former 9/11 Commission vice chair and Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton isn’t accepting this explanation either, telling ABC News “We’ve done a pretty good job on the first part of it people entering the country. But with regard to those exiting the country we simply have not been able to set up a system to deal with that and it showed in this case.”

*UPDATE #2: Shahzad purchased the M-88’s at Phantom Fireworks in Matamoras PA. According to Bruce Zoldan, the store owner, each M-88 contains just 50 mg of black powder and is about 98% paper. This is the legal limit for 1.4g firecrackers and is about the size of a quarter of an aspirin. While legal consumer fireworks often use names like “cherry bomb”, “silver salute” and “M-80” to capitalize on the explosive power of these legendary firecrackers (a single M-80 thrown in a sewer could send a manhole cover high into the air) in terms of power they are mere shadows of their namesakes. Today’s firecrackers can go off in your hand and might cause a wicked sting but they will not take off your fingers (I personally confirmed this by setting off a Thunderbomb in my hand. Yes, I watch too much Mythbusters.)

Doctors Work For Free Too Often

Need a lawyer? Chances are that if you do you will need to pay for a retainer. The retainer is a set amount of money you pay the lawyer that s/he holds and bills against. Every action the lawyer does takes away from that retainer. Do you need her to send a letter? The time to draft and mail the letter is deducted from the retainer. Do you need to speak to him on the phone about your case? Every minute you spend talking to him is billed against that retainer. Once the retainer is gone you either have to add funds to it or find yourself another lawyer.

As the husband of a newly minted family physician – and someone who seriously considered law school at several points over the years – I am often amazed at how different being a doctor is from being a lawyer. The biggest difference is that my wife can only bill for office visits. Everything else she does outside of meeting a patient face-to-face is free.

Dr. Richard J. Baron, a physician in private practice in Philadelphia tracked his and his associates time and reported the results in the April 2010 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. On average each physician responded to 24 phone calls each day, as well as answered 17 emails (majority being lab results), refilled 12 prescription, evaluated 20 lab results, reviewed 11 imaging (CT and MRI) reports, and handled 14 consultation reports that often required adjustments to a patient’s medications. All this work cannot be billed for and is done for free.

On top of the unpaid busywork, each physician saw 18 patients daily. If each patient visit was 15 minutes long, the physician spent 4 1/2 hours of her day in front of her patients and billable. But the visits themselves require more unpaid busy work. The doctor has to exam each patient’s medical record before the visit, and then make notes and annotations of the results of the visit to the medical record and add appropriate billing codes afterward.

According to Dr. Byron, doctors at his practice worked an average of 50-60 hours a week. I would estimate that is less than my wife works, but she is still developing her administrative and time managements skills so I hope that eventually her hours will decrease.

Because doctors cannot bill for the time they spend doing busywork, there is no constraint on it and it will grow. In order to attempt to handle it, the physicians at Dr. Byron’s office hired more staff. But this is unsustainable since a bigger staff adds costs to the practice without increasing revenue. Electronic medical records (EMR’s) help but these systems only store information that must be entered, accessed, and interpreted – and the physician himself is the only person qualified (and legally responsible) to interpret the information. EMR’s are an integral part of improving the efficiency of a medical practice, but as Dr. Byron points out, the implementation of the EMR did not reduce staffing, it only changed the skillset of the staff. His office laid off a registered nurse but later brought on another to perform “information triage.”

The only way to stop the growth in unpaid work is to charge for it. That will not sit well with doctors, insurance companies, or patients. But unless doctors bill for this unpaid work and insurance providers and patients pay, the unpaid busywork will only grow until physicians are forced into more lucrative specialties, boutique medicine, or leave the field entirely.

UPDATE: The Texas Medical Association reports that in 2001, a $1000 Medicare payment netted a physician a $410 profit after expenses. In 2010 that same payment only provides a $290 profit. If planned Medicare cuts go through, it will net just $72. PCP’s are opting out of Medicare at an alarming rate in the Lone Star State. The majority of the patients the Wife sees are Medicaid/Medicare. If she stopped seeing them, she would not have patients and worse, her patients would not have a doctor. She has options: boutique medicine, treating suburban patients with private insurance. Her patients in the mountains do not.